If you've followed the news lately, you've likely heard that Apple has denied the United States government's request to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The FBI is seeking information that may be on Farook's employer-issued iPhone as it tries to investigate the December 2015 shootings that left 14 people dead.
Apple's CEO Tim Cook published a customer letter on the company's website late Tuesday that contests the judge's order to unlock the phone. The government is requesting that Apple create a "one-off" version of iOS that it could install on this device that would disable the auto-erase function that is enabled when too many wrong passwords are input into the phone.
Aside from disabling the auto-erase function, the government also wants Apple to remove its delay on password inputs so that more password attempts can be input quicker and in what is perhaps the most alarming request, to allow the FBI to submit passcodes via a physical port or a wireless protocol (i.e. Bluetooth or WiFi. It is the last request that has many defending Apple's decision to deny the government's request. It is also this last request that brings into question the legality of such a request.
In its defiance, Apple is now subject to legal obligation. The All Writs Act, which was passed in 1789, is being used to force Apple to comply. However, the request would require Apple to do a lot of work to modify its iOS software and add a functionality that would weaken its products and their security, which will be the core of Apple's defense when this standoff gets to court.
This case will would be a landmark case and would set a whole new precedent for allowing the government to force Apple, and any other company for that matter, to modify their systems to allow access to your private data.
It is here the debate is to be had. Sure there will be technical aspects that are costly to Apple, but more importantly, there is the possibility of the government weakening the security of private company's product, which creates potential problems and infringements on the civil liberties of American citizens, and foreign citizens, who use Apple products.
Apple has drawn a hard line in the sand. However they have been garnering support from others. Jan Koum of the popular social platform WhatsApp, who has had his own run-ins with information requests, supported Cook's letter. So too did the EEF and the ACLU. Google has also voiced its support.
While other tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft have yet to weigh in, one fact remains. The most powerful tech company in the world is poised to go toe to toe with the most powerful government in the world. And as Apple's Tim Cook said, the real question at hand here is not "can we," it's "should we." The answer to that question could have ramifications for the privacy of citizens in all countries.